re:heat launches funded forestry programme with call for woodland owners and innovators to join

A new three-year programme has launched today, 22nd September, to bring more woodland into active management in the North East and Yorkshire by working with woodland owners and forestry innovators.

Northwoods, a programme funded by the Forestry Commission through the Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Funds (WiMFIF) – part of the UK Government’s Nature for Climate Fund – has been established to accelerate innovative approaches and technology to stimulate practical action in unmanaged and undermanaged woodlands, as well as improve biodiversity and sustainability.

The programme will deliver fully funded expert advice, one-to-one innovation support, events, webinars, networking, technology demonstrations (including through providing access to forestry sites) and will survey stakeholders to establish their opinions of woodland management. Northwoods is being managed by Northumberland-based low carbon heat and forestry consultancy, Reheat, joined by a consortium of industry experts, including Sylva Foundation, Timber Auctions, RDI Associates, Martin Glynn FICFor, and Green Business Finance.

The programme is open to all types of woodland owners, including those from across the public, private and charity sectors, and particularly those interested in bringing areas of unmanaged woodland back into management, or with an interest in forestry innovation. Solutions such as electrification of the forest and timber supply chains, the rise of mapping technology and the myForest app (managed by Sylva Foundation) will be explored and demonstrated throughout the programme.

Reheat director, Neil Harrison, said: “Northwoods has the potential to be an important tool for addressing major challenges in today’s forestry market, as well as educating programme participants about the future of woodland management. We will demonstrate how innovation and technology can be implemented and work closely with those operating in forestry and those seeking to enter woodland management. The outputs from Northwoods promise to be truly significant, so I urge woodland owners and innovators to get involved.”

Forestry Commission Grant Manager, Jack Clough, said: “The Forestry Commission are delighted to be providing support for this project which will enable woodland owners of all types to overcome barriers to management. Through the Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Funds, the Forestry Commission are supporting a range of projects, including Northwoods, designed to improve the ecological condition of our woodlands”

The call to register interest with the Northwoods programme is now open, and those wishing to find out more or participate should visit the website, as well as engage with the programme on social media: Twitter (@northwoods_wm) and LinkedIn.

We’re recruiting.

Are you good at building long-term relationships? Are you supremely organised, do you pay attention to detail? Can you work confidently and at ease with clients and with suppliers?

Yes? Then we’d love to hear from you…

We’re looking to fill the role of a Key Account Manager, helping our team to look after our renewable energy heat-supply contracts. The renewable energy industry, and in particular the renewable heat sector, is set to grow significantly over the next few years. There’s a lot of work to do to convert the UK’s heating sector from being heavily reliant on fossil fuels to renewable sources of heat. re:heat are in an excellent place to continue our decade of work with commercial, industrial and process heat users across the UK to help them decarbonise and achieve net-Zero status.

We need to add a key member of the team who fills the following criteria:

  • Supremely well organised
  • Problem solver, solution focussed
  • A people-person, excellent at building long-term relationships
  • Works confidently with clients and suppliers
  • Working across the Midlands, North of England and Scotland
  • Able to contribute to tenders and to help build our heat-supply business
  • Experience of renewable energy and biomass would be beneficial, but certainly not essential

If this sounds like you, please get in touch. We’re a great company to work for, offering a great deal of flexibility, freedom and potential for growth. We work in a wide variety of places and environments – from forests to historic buildings and properties, through to international work alongside global clients.

Please send an email with a few more details about you and requesting more information about the job to:

Part 3 of building a carbon neutral distillery – meeting the energy challenge.

Steam from biomass – making it work

Biomass – the practicalities

Many have tried to run a distillery from a biomass boiler; some have struggled; and a few have failed, given up and gone home… but others have succeeded, and the industry has learnt from all of these examples – good and bad. 

The overriding priority when considering biomass for a distillery is to make sure it’s done safely. Distillery operators are expert in managing the hazards they are familiar with, including those associated with oil and gas fuelling, but biomass presents different hazards – often unfamiliar to distillers. Seeking expert support in the design, commissioning and operation of the boiler system is therefore essential.

The introduction of the RHI tempted lots of people into the sector – not all of them expert in the hazards or practicalities of biomass boiler systems. The flood of installations in the following years led to a significant number of installations which were not up to standard, including some dangerous examples. This resulted in some newsworthy accidents and tarnished the reputation of the sector as a whole. The cowboys who dominated the sector at its peak have mostly left town, but they left behind a legacy of poorly designed and under-performing biomass systems.

However, this shouldn’t be viewed as a failing on the part of biomass as a low carbon technology, but the result of an incentive scheme which was as poorly designed as some of the installations it triggered. Most of the companies still in the biomass sector know and understand the hazards, and how a project should be designed and implemented safely. The Combustion Engineering Association’s BG05 “Guidance on the Design and Operation of Biomass Systems” is a great place to get an appreciation of the types of hazards I refer to here.

As well as a safe boiler, distillers want a boiler that works in their application, and without applying specific knowledge, there are some well-known ways a biomass boiler can struggle in distillery service.

Offsite fabrication of a biomass steam boiler plant

Timing is everything

As anyone who’s sat round a campfire knows, there’s a delay between putting a log on the fire and feeling the benefit of it. It’s a characteristic of all solid fuels, and this delay certainly isn’t ideal in a distillery application – when the operator asks for steam to the still, he means now, not in 20 minutes. There is a similar problem when the still run is complete – the fuel on the grate continues to burn, and the heat may be wasted if the distillery doesn’t need it at that specific moment. 

In an attempt to cater for distilleries’ notoriously “peaky” steam demand, many biomass boilers have been fitted in parallel (duty/assist) with the existing fossil fired boiler. Typically, the design intent was for the biomass boiler to provide the base load, leaving the fossil fuelled boiler to pick up the peaks in demand. However, the limited turndown capacity of boilers can mean that the fossil boiler spends a lot of time on minimum fire, taking a large part of the distillery’s demand, reducing the fossil fuel displacement and actually leaving the peaks to be taken up either by the biomass system or by the fossil boiler cycling on and off. Neither is ideal.

In partnership with engineers in continental Europe who have been designing biomass systems for over 50 years, re:heat have implemented and proven a number of techniques for controlling the fire in the furnace and the boiler pressure to iron-out the mismatch between steam supply and demand. This means the peaks and troughs which are common in distillery applications can be met by a single biomass boiler – without the need for backup plant.

When foul isn’t fair

Gas boilers hardly ever need cleaning, oil boilers maybe once a year. Biomass boilers which are not properly controlled can need much more frequent cleaning due to build-up of tar or soot in the furnace or boiler, particularly when they are burning “difficult” fuels such as wet woodchip or draff.

Furred boiler tubes from running a dry wood boiler on wet fuel

If a “difficult” fuel is readily available at a low cost, then regular cleaning may be justifiable, but in a well-designed biomass boiler system, cleaning twice a year is adequate for most industrial users.

A low carbon footprint can come with a big actual footprint…

It’s an inescapable fact that a biomass store is bigger than an oil tank or a gas governor. If your site is tight, then it might be a struggle to fit a biomass system onto it, but there are usually approaches which can be adopted to manage this. For example, it may be that the fuel supply chain could be tweaked to minimise on-site storage space requirement, or it might be an application for a pellet fired boiler. Certified sustainable pellets are widely available from manufacturers in the UK, which will keep your environmental credentials intact.

It sounds obvious, but a good fuel supply is crucial to successful operation of a biomass boiler. Less obvious is that the fuel supply should be planned out well before the boiler is operational. The biomass fuel supply chain can be daunting to those unfamiliar with it, but don’t worry – there are plenty of people out there who can make it work for you. It doesn’t need to be any more difficult than buying oil, but there are some bear traps to avoid and forward planning will save stress, time and cost.

Biomass boiler plant room under construction, Brora Distillery, October 2020


There’s no getting away from the fact that distilling is an energy intensive process, and that up to 90% of all the energy used in a distillery can be in the form of steam and heat. You can certainly reduce the energy demand by implementing heat recovery strategies, but there is always going to be a need for heat input. No single heat supply solution is the right one for every application, and no single solution can provide for the whole industry. 

It’s clear, however, that biomass-fired boilers are one of the most technically and economically viable options currently available, and in many cases the only low carbon option which is likely to work for a distillery. Properly designed systems which use high quality equipment and proven technology can be the beating heart of a distillery, and with a realistic lifespan of 25 years or more on the right boiler, it’s important to get it right.

re:heat’s senior team includes forestry, biomass boiler and distillery engineering professionals, meaning we’re ideally placed to assess or implement a biomass-fired solution for your distillery, or to advise on any aspect of the project lifecycle through our consultancy arm. So, if you’re still burning dinosaurs to make whisky, then call us – we can help.

Part 2 of building a carbon neutral distillery… meeting the energy challenge.

Biomass for heat – the sustainability debate

Our Principal Engineer, Andrew McGhee, shares the second part of his article on carbon neutral distilling, addressing the common question “is biomass really sustainable?”

Woodchip produced from sustainably managed UK forests

There has been a debate around this question which has gone on and on for years.  Those arguing that wood is not sustainable point out that there may actually be more CO2 coming out of the chimney of a wood fuelled boiler than one running on oil or gas.  They may dismiss the argument about re-absorption of CO2 as trees grow by saying that it takes decades for this to happen, and that this is too long in the current climate emergency.  In this equation, the CO2 in the atmosphere for the time period between release and absorption by growing trees is termed the carbon debt.  All of this misses one critical fact – that UK forests are growing faster than we are felling them.  So in actual fact, the carbon storage in UK forests is increasing, year on year, by about 20-30 million tonnes of stored CO2 equivalent per annum. [].

So, while we are nibbling at one edge of the UK managed plantation forest, felling about 2% per year, the forest is growing in other areas faster than we are felling it.  The CO2 released when wood is burnt in 2030 is not absorbed 20 years later – it’s being absorbed right now by UK forests.  The fact that the UK managed forest sector is putting on weight is not – of course – just because of people using wood fuel.  But wood fuel is a part of the overall market for forestry products and helps to sustain a healthy and growing forestry industry in the UK.  These facts are recognised and supported by governments across the world, and by supra-national bodies such as the EU and UN.

There is another argument which is often made – that we shouldn’t grow trees just to burn them. Well the truth is – we generally don’t.  Wood fuels’ place in the overall forest products market is widely mis-understood.  The main product of almost all forestry is saw log – big diameter logs which are sent to sawmills to be made into timber for construction, fencing, furniture etc.  This is where foresters want their felled trees to go – it’s the highest value, most lucrative destination for felled timber.  Next on the pecking order for timber is wood destined for pallet manufacture and fencing. Then it’s packaging products, panel board manufacture and paper pulp.

Only when local markets for these products have been supplied do the leftovers go for fuel.  The material typically destined for fuel is rejected by the sawmills as unsuitable, too small for sawmills to bother with, or offcuts and sawdust from the sawmills.  There are exceptions which depend on local market conditions, but generally the only whole trees that go for fuel are from forestry thinnings – when small and weak trees are removed from a growing forest to make space for the strong to grow.  Stands of low-quality timber – unsuitable for sawmilling – may also be harvested for fuel in particular circumstances, such as during the Coronavirus pandemic when demand for saw logs has been very low, or when no alternative local market exists.

As the recent (2018) UNECE report into wood energy highlights, “wood fuel removals can offer important ecological, economic and social benefits if forests are well managed”, which are in addition to the carbon benefits which accrue from not burning fossil fuels.  This should be particularly reassuring for those sourcing their fuel from the UK, as we have one of the best established national forest management frameworks anywhere in the world.

Low grade timber awaiting collection in Morayshire

The EU also supports the use of wood as a low carbon fuel via the Renewable Energy Directive, but the WWF were critical of this position, focusing on the actual CO2 coming out of the stack of a boiler house and ignoring the bigger picture.  Read deeper into the WWF position paper though, and they acknowledge that the use of wood for fuel is appropriate as long as it is not wood that could have been used in solid form (and so locking up the carbon it contains).  They recommend using wood for construction, and only using material unsuitable for a higher purpose as fuel.  As I have discussed, this is basically what the forestry products industry does anyway.

I have only discussed the domestic UK timber market here because this is the material generally used to feed industrial boilers of the type applicable to distilleries.  There is also significant import of fuel wood into the UK in the form of wood pellets from the USA and the Baltic States.  This import supplies the Drax power station and some of the pellet demand for UK domestic and small commercial properties.  For distilleries, wood chip is usually the preferred fuel, though in particular circumstances a pellet boiler may be chosen.

Part three will cover the practicalities of using biomass to raise steam for a distillery or any other process load.

Building a carbon neutral distillery… meeting the energy challenge.

Our Principal Engineer, Andrew McGhee applies his 25 years of energy sector and distillery engineering experience to look at some of the answers.

We all know that emissions of CO2 have to be greatly reduced over the next very few years, and that distillers everywhere are working hard on how to achieve this.  The latest Environmental Strategy Report from the Scotch Whisky Association shows the distilling industry leading the charge, reporting that the 2020 target for reducing fossil fuel use has been smashed, with 28% of primary energy now coming from non-fossil fuels.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that distilling is an energy intensive process, so what is the beleaguered energy or environment manager to do?  The good news is that there are lots of options out there.  That’s also the bad news – because no single one of these options is “the best” in every situation.  So there’s a need for careful assessment (by that beleaguered energy manager) on a case-by-case basis.  We at re:heat – biomass installers and low carbon heat consultants – believe that there is a place for all of the options; that no individual option can do it all. If anyone tells you that that theirs is the best solution in every case, then you’re clearly talking to a salesman – not an engineer or sustainable energy professional.

Maximising energy efficiency across every stage of a process should be a given. Your insulation should be good, your steam leaks should be eliminated, and waste heat should be recovered and beneficially reused wherever practicable.  Apart from that, there are dozens of ways of reducing energy use, from the cheap & simple to the hugely complex and expensive.  Which ones are justified (or justifiable) on any particular site depends on the size of the site and the price of your energy, amongst other things.  But one universal truth is that however much you work on energy efficiency improvement, you’re still going to need a source of energy which is as close to zero carbon as possible.

So, what are the main options for carbon neutral heat?

Electrification.  It’s perfectly possible to generate heat from electricity – either directly or by using a heat pump.  Electrical heat is clean and easy – we use it every time we make a cup of tea or coffee.  Some will tell you it’s 100% efficient, but of course that is misleading.  The main problems with electrical heat are that it’s expensive, and the UK’s power grid simply can’t support generation and distribution on the scale required to fully decarbonise our heat, not to mention our transport.

The price problem can be reduced with high temperature (steam raising) heat pumps, however, they’re not widely used or proven yet in industrial applications.  Also, to qualify for RHI support, heat pumps can only use air or ground source – not waste process heat, and air/ground source high temperature heat pumps have low coefficients of performance due to the high temperature uplift required.

The other broader problem with the electrification of heat is a looming power generation squeeze in the UK.  Six of the UK’s 7 existing nuclear power stations and all of the coal fired stations are expected to shut down within the next 10 years, although there should be a new nuclear plant coming online soon – Hinkley C in Somerset, which is projected to begin providing power to the grid in around 2026, and will provide around 7% of the UK’s electricity needs.  But with the UK’s current nuclear fleet providing around 20%, you can see the problem.  Add to that an increasing demand from the electrification of transport, and the power squeeze is apparent.

Increased renewable generation – especially offshore wind – will fill some of the gap, but it’s doubtful whether the grid (generation or distribution) can support the widespread deployment of heat electrification without huge infrastructure investment.  Electrification of heat could be viable if you can generate power locally – tidal power on Islay or Scapa Flow for example, but these sorts of options are limited in scope and scale.  So, there is a place for some electrification of heat, but it is by no means the panacea for the 2020’s that some claim.

Hydrogen. Great fuel, zero emissions – what’s not to like?  Well, there is currently nowhere near enough of it to go round!  You can make it from water and electricity, but the poor energy conversion efficiency means you would be better off just using the electricity directly.  Really, hydrogen is an energy storage medium – not an energy source.  It’s also very expensive at the moment.  

As the hydrogen market develops over the next few years, supply will increase and prices will drop, but it’s probably a decade or more away from helping that poor energy manager, and the UK government has big ambitions for using hydrogen in the existing fossil gas grid.  The hydrogen industry needs support because it’s certainly a part of the future energy mix, but it’s not ready to help many people with 2030 emissions targets to meet, particularly if they’re off the gas grid.

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Biomass. People have been burning wood for thousands of years to raise heat, and in 2020 it still constitutes the world’s largest non-fossil source of energy.  It’s renewable, the technology is proven, there’s an established supply chain, and you can have a system up and running in a year.

As this opinion is coming from a biomass company, you’d expect us to claim that it’s the answer to everything, right?  Well, no, we don’t think it’s for everyone.  Again, there’s not enough wood available at present to cater for the entire distilling sector, and you really want to be in an area with an established forestry and wood products industry, because wood fuel is bulky. We wouldn’t recommend it in Shetland for example, but there’s no escaping the fact that wood is without doubt one of the most cost-effective emission reduction strategies which can be implemented at scale now. We’ll come to the debate about whether using wood is really helping lower CO2 emissions in part 2.

Biogas / bio-propane.  Both natural gas and LPG (propane) can be manufactured from biogenic origins, so that the CO2 released on combustion has previously been drawn from the atmosphere by plants. Both are chemically identical to their fossil equivalents, but again (are you getting the pattern yet?) there is not enough of either material available to satisfy the needs of the whole distilling industry.

Vegetable oils can also displace fuel oil in boilers for steam generation.  Some oils are cost competitive with fossil oil and proven in industrial application.  They do have one or two operational problems, but nothing that can’t be overcome.  However, the supply of vegetable fuels oil is very limited, and heat users will have to compete with the transport sector for the available resource.

Geothermal energy.  The deeper you drill, the hotter it gets.  Unfortunately, to get steam you have to go really deep, and the upfront capital cost gets quite daunting.  If you have a distillery in Iceland or Turkey, you probably know about this already, but there are a few areas in the UK with real geothermal potential. Worth checking out, but entirely dependent on local geology.

Biogenic carbon capture. For every 100 tonnes of CO2 which goes up the chimney from the boiler, over 30 tonnes is vented cold and pure from the fermentation process. That cold pure CO2 is ideal for re-use or sequestration.  You have to be careful where that CO2 goes, but with geological sequestration projects alive and kicking in the UK, there is potential there. Unfortunately, it’s probably too far out for your 2030 targets, but do I dare suggest that whisky production could viably have negative emissions in the future by making use of this mechanism?

Alternative raw materials.  Pea gin anyone?  A tip of the hat to Arbikie Distillery in Angus, but this is probably not able to be rolled out on a large scale – and definitely not in the making of scotch whisky!

The main point here is that there isn’t enough of any one of these resources to supply all of Scotland’s distilleries.  Most or all of these solutions are required if the industry – and not just individual distilleries – is to achieve carbon neutrality.

re:heat offer biomass solutions which are widely deployed and well proven in the distilling sector, so that’s what we’ll focus on in part 2 of this post, coming soon.

Email to find out more about carbon neutral distilling and the solutions on offer.


Most of the team at re:heat will be operating as normal during the lockdown period. We will endeavour to keep as many of our customers systems operational during this period, only undertaking essential works. Our consultancy work continues, and we’re always pleased to hear from new and old clients with enquiries relating to new system design, installation, procurement, improvement, optimisation and remedial works.

Our dedicated engineers are providing breakdown cover and some servicing where it’s necessary, taking all the necessary precautions to stay safe. We have introduced new bespoke systems, including the production of site-specific risk assessments and method statements to deal with on-site operations which will help our team, and our customers stay as safe as possible during any operational work.

Please do get in touch with our service team if you’d like to book a service in or if you’re having a problem with your biomass system, we’ll continue to do our best to help. Whilst our Head Office in Alnwick is temporarily closed, we have a call forwarding service, so if you call the office number (01665 665 040) then please leave a message and one of our team will be back in touch as soon as we can.

For anything else you think we might be able to help with, please get in touch on and as ever we’ll do our best to help.

Stay safe and we look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.



re:heat have had an urgent request from the Scottish Government to monitor the health and robustness of the wood fuel supply chain to meet the heating needs of wood fuel users in Scotland in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We are gathering opinion from a range of companies involved in the biomass fuel supply chain in Scotland and I’d like to ask for your input to that process. We then collate that information for the Scottish Government to keep them abreast of the state of the market. Ultimately this is to ensure continuity of fuel supply for users dependent on wood fuel – for example there are a number of care homes, hospitals etc which are dependent on either chip or pellet supplies for their heating needs. This process also allows the industry to let government know what help and support is needed.
Can we ask for your input / opinion please, as follows –

  1. Are you aware of any immediate impacts of the Covid 19 outbreak on supply chains, e.g. staff off sick, contractors being denied access to sites, etc.
  2. What impact, if any, do you think the outbreak will have on woodfuel supply chains from the forest to end users? What impact is this having / do you expect it to have on price?
  3. Where do you think there might be any particular pinch points?
  4. What plans are you putting in place to protect your own staff and to ensure business continuity?
  5. Any other useful thoughts or comments?

Please note that this provides an excellent opportunity to let the government know what the industry needs. Please take advantage of this opportunity to support our industry through this difficult time by replying to this consultation request. Participants will be emailed a redacted copy of the memo for information.
Thanks in anticipation of your input. For more information, or to respond to the consultation, please email:

We’re Recruiting!

A fantastic career opportunity has arisen for a recent graduate to join our team.  The role will be based in Alnwick, a pleasant market town situated 40 minutes north of Newcastle.

Biomass is Europe’s and the UK’s largest renewable energy sector and this role provides an opportunity to grow not only your own career, but to help the sector continue to increase its contribution to meeting the UK’s low carbon ambitions.

There will be a requirement to travel in the UK and potentially overseas.

Ben providing consultancy and research advice

Essential Skills and Qualifications

To be considered for this role you will ideally have a BSc or MSc in any of the following subjects or related disciplines : Renewable Energy, Forestry, Energy Engineering and Sustainability, Sustainable Buildings, Geography, Environmental Science, Mechanical/Electrical Engineering, Environmental Management or Economics.  However, we would consider any recent graduate with the right attitude and approach, or potentially someone with a few years experience in an unrelated field that is seeking to move into a growth industry.

Full details of the role can be found in the job description below.

Renewable Energy Consultant Job Description

Vacancy for Service Administrator

re:heat have a vacancy for a Service Administrator based at our office in Alnwick.  The role has been created to support the growth of our service and maintenance activities in the biomass energy sector across the UK.

The ideal candidate will have experience in a similar setting and will be comfortable working in a technical engineering environment.  They will also be IT literate, highly organised, pro-active and an excellent communicator.

We offer flexible hours, a competitive salary and a stimulating working environment with a  company which is committed to being at the forefront of the renewable energy industry.

For more information please download the job description here : Service Administrator Job Description

Or you can email us on or call us on 01665 665 040.

Is Biomass Still Feasible?

Back in the mists of time, before the Renewable Heat Incentive showed us all that wood actually burns, feasibility studies played a key role in establishing the technical and economic case for every biomass heating project.  They were considered such an important stage that Forestry Commission Scotland produced a 12 page ‘how to’ guide on producing one in 2011.  But for some reason they had disappeared from the decision-making process until very recently.

McMurdo Antarctic Station

I’ve personally completed at least a couple of hundred for any number of buildings, including sites as disparate as the US Antarctic bases at McMurdo Sound and the South Pole, through to Balfour Castle – the remote calendar house on Shapinsay.  So what happened?  Why did the previously critical step of the feasibility study disappear from the process of installing a biomass boiler, and what have been the implications?

As with most things in the sector, the answer lies with the RHI, which since it was introduced in November 2011 has been almost the only reason anyone has installed a wood-fired boiler.  Because the biomass industry was starting from such a low base, uptake was slow at first – the supply chain simply wasn’t in place to deliver much more than a few dozen new installations a month, and even a year after it was launched, monthly registrations were still below 200.

Feasibility studies were typically still a part of the decision-making process at this point, and crucially, there was no particular time pressure on customers to commit to a purchase.  All this changed in early 2013, when the unregulated nature of the sector and almost uniformly compelling economic case for biomass saw countless new companies pile in to the opportunity created by the RHI.  Such was the rate of installations that August 2013 saw the RHI hit a ‘degression trigger’ – a pre-determined point at which the per-kWh payments would be reduced for new projects to slow the sector down.

Rather than having the desired effect, the fear of degression actually drove the number of installations up, and the relatively organic growth of late 2013/early 2014 – around 400 systems a month – turned into monthly peaks of over 1,000, then 1,500 and finally 2,200 biomass boiler registrations in December that year.  While a ten-fold increase in the installation rate of biomass boilers might sound like a good thing for meeting targets, there’s compelling evidence from industry and government research that a great many of the installations that happened in this period were simply not fit for purpose.

The insistent drum beat of the RHI and its quarterly degressions had the effect of removing the crucial feasibility study phase from almost every project that went ahead.  As 2014 progressed and the market overheated, the formal design process and – in some cases – even detailed quotations were skipped in the rush to complete the sale, installation and registration process.  I’ve seen half-page quotations for £200,000 engineering projects and layouts for projects in listed buildings scrawled on the back of envelopes dating from the boom years of the RHI.

So, on to the $64m question – is a biomass heating project still feasible?  Well, that crucial first step of a feasibility study will help to determine the technical and economic case for any project, and broadly speaking, biomass still makes sense for most off-gas applications.  The ‘shape’ of the RHI has changed in the last couple of years, there’s been the removal of tariff banding and the attendant loss of the sweet spots of 199kW and 999kW, as well as the doubling of the Tier 1 threshold to 3,066 full load hours.  This removes the incentive to design around the tariff structure, and means that installers can now provide a proposal which is untainted by the tail-wagging-the-dog perversities of the tariff bands.

A feasibility study for a project in 2019 will typically demonstrate an 8-12 year payback for most rural installations, and should also set out the various practicalities of taking a scheme forward – from fuel delivery vehicle access to planning permission requirements, boiler size to chimney height.  With the invariably high investment costs associated with biomass projects; the technical complexity associated with delivering a safe, efficient and easy-to-operate scheme; and the relatively complex legislative environment that often applies to rural projects, I’d argue that having a feasibility study carried out prior to taking a project forward is more important than ever.Ben Tansey meeting with Land Agent

The RHI closes to new applications on 31 March 2021, meaning the clock is ticking for those thinking of taking a project forward.  UK government are playing their cards very close to their chest when it comes post RHI-support for the decarbonisation of heat, but taking us to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 (and ideally a lot sooner) means something will invariably be required.  Most informed observers believe that this will be a combination of sticks and carrots – most likely a levy or tax imposed on fossil heating fuels which ratchets up year-on-year, coupled with reducing levels of financial support for those making the change to renewable sources of heat.  Over time the carrots will get smaller and the sticks will get bigger – both will deliver the desired outcome, it’s just a question of how much pain the end user will have to bear.